There was a young man who joined around 300 community members and leaders from in and around Memphis on Nov. 14 for conversations about the creation of a new narrative — one of hope, possibility, connectivity and the aesthetics of interdependency.
His mother had died of cancer the day before, yet there he was, with gifts of self to offer in a room filled with an abundance of generosity. At the end of the day, one of the event organizers, Mary Jo Greil, carried a microphone to him, not knowing of the loss he had just experienced. She was eager to hear his description of what the day meant to him; what he might have gained.
“He said that he came in at a certain level and the day moved him up to a new level,” Mary Jo recalls.
This young man’s story took the collective breath out of the room, and speaks to the depth of commitment the walls of Rhodes College absorbed that day.
People from all walks of life gathered to be part of the conversation, facilitated by thought leaders Peter Block, John McKnight and Walter Brueggemann.
Rabbis and pastors shared insights while young people and elders alike gained new appreciation for each others’ commitment to their city.
The lines of racial difference were blurred in the collective purpose of the day. Mary Jo sits on the board of directors with Center for Transforming Communities, the connecting organization that invited guests to be part of the conversation.
She had the pleasure of keeping a broad perspective over the day’s events, and was struck by the cross-section of people so eager to tackle the deep questions posed by Peter, John and Walter.
“It was very heartwarming to see so many people . . . focusing on how to strengthen the narrative within Memphis, and to understand that more and to witness the energy that was being produced by people coming together to expand their thinking,” Mary Jo says.
But what made this different from other community building conferences? What gives Mary Jo hope that this expanded thinking will morph into collective action on the ground in neighborhoods across the city?Her answer: the depth of purpose in the room.
“People had much deeper conversations than they’re used to having with people they don’t even know and were discovering new resources, new people that they can jointly do things with,” Mary Jo says, before listing friends — brand new and old — who all committed to taking these conversations to a new level.
The greatest hopes she had for the day were realized in the depth within the room, and the gifts of a young man who lost his mother will stay close to Mary Jo as she honors her commitments to the city she cares so much for.